Is the tycoon era in HK coming to an end?


(Left) Mr Li Ka Shing, who is Asia's richest man, builds one in seven flats in Hong Kong. (Right)Mr Lee Shau Kee controls Hong Kong and China Gas Company, the sole provider of town gas.

HONG KONG - When residents of Banyan Garden in Kowloon moved into their new homes built by tycoon Li Ka Shing's Cheung Kong Holdings 10 years ago, they realised their connection with Asia's richest man did not stop there.

The estate management company they had to use was a Li Ka Shing business. Their phone and broadband services were provided by a Li Ka Shing telecoms operator.

It may have struck some as a rather incestuous set-up by a powerful conglomerate, but there was nothing illegal about it. The residents complained but the Hong Kong authorities, without the cudgel of a competition law, was powerless to act.

This could change for Hong Kong's tycoons in the coming years.

'Hong Kong's Warren Buffet', but No.2
  • For much of his life, Mr Lee Shau Kee has sailed in at No. 2 after Hong Kong's richest man Li Ka Shing.
  • Financial perspicuity runs in his blood. Born in the southern Guangdong province to a gold trader and money changer, Mr Lee fled to Hong Kong when he was 20, just before the Communists took power on the mainland.
  • For a while, he dabbled in imports and exports, but dreamed big. Real estate, he determined, was the way to go.

In 1958, he co-founded Sun Hung Kai Properties with Mr Kwok Tak Seng.
  • In 1976, he broke away to form his own company, Henderson, of which he remains chairman and managing director till today. His two sons Peter and Ka Shing are in place as vice-chairmen.

As Hong Kong boomed, so did Henderson.
  • International Financial Centre Hong Kong
  • IFC is one of Hong Kong's most iconic buildings. Two ifc is the second tallest building in Hong Kong and the eighth tallest in the world.
  • Manulife Financial Centre, Hong Kong
  • This building was jointly developed by Henderson Land Development and Sun Hung Kai Properties
  • IFC (left) and Conduit 39 (right).
  • Conduit Road 39, one of Hong Kong's most luxurious residential towers.
  • World Financial Centre, Beijing
  • Henderson Metro, Shanghai Bund

In June last year, after seven years of wrangling, Hong Kong finally joined most developed economies in passing a Competition Law which, on paper at least, aims to crack down on anti-competitive cartel behaviour like price-fixing.

It also prohibits companies with "a substantial degree of market power" from abusing it to restrict competition - a rule that Cheung Kong's conduct in the Banyan Garden case might fall under.

"The law will help us clean house," says law academic Thomas Cheng, a member of the commission drafting the guidelines to flesh out the law. It is expected to be implemented in a year.

So when news broke last month that Mr Li was putting his Parkn- Shop supermarket chain on the block, some guessed it might be because the end is nigh for legal cartelisation.

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